Neom’s Wayne Borg, Producer Eric Hedayat on Saudi’s Booming Production



While attending the third edition of the Red Sea Film Festival, Wayne Borg, managing director of media, entertainment and culture and fashion at Neom sat down with U.S. producer Eric Hedayat and Variety‘s Italy and Middle East correspondent Nick Vivarelli to discuss Neom’s key role in Saudi Arabia’s entertainment industry boom.

Coupling state-of-the-art infrastructure with Saudi Arabia’s enticing 40% tax rebate, Neom has solidified itself as a major entertainment and media production hub not only locally to Saudi but internationally in the last two years.

“[Neom] is about one critical mass of infrastructure, stages, support facilities and workshops,” said Borg about the fundamental principles of the company. “It’s about a competitive, super attractive production incentive scheme and ensuring the depth and breadth of workers to support the influx of productions we are experiencing now. And, finally, it’s about getting out of the way.”

With over 20 years of experience in the media sector, Borg previously led divisions at Universal Studios, Disney and Time Warner and joined Neom back in 2019. Since then, the executive has overseen the running of over 35 productions across two main production hubs in the Media Village and Bajdah Desert Studios.

In the coming years, Neom intends to considerably expand its operation with the opening of 50 soundstages and doubling its current accommodation capacity of 350 units to offer over 550 rooms to crews. This comes on top of the over 1000 rooms available in hotels within an hour’s drive from the area plus a recently opened international airport with direct flights to London and Dubai. Such initiatives are part of the pioneering The Line, Neom’s fully sustainable, vertical smart city.

Borg described Neom’s core philosophy as a way of addressing the “great challenge the world faces today, which is sustainability.” “Fundamentally, sustainability is impacted most by urbanism. At its heart, Neom is about how we redefine urbanism. That’s where Neom differentiates itself. We are going to be entirely zero carbon, and from an industry perspective, that legacy puts us in an enviable position to lead the way in sustainable production.”

Neom has attracted a range of large-scale productions in recent years, from Rajkumar Hirani’s Shah Rukh Khan-starring “Dunki” to MBC Studios’ 10-part fantasy series “Rise of the Witches,” the biggest TV series ever to be made in the region. Back in June, Neom signed a partnership with leading Saudi production company Telfaz 11 resulting in the creation of up to nine TV and film productions in the next three years. Telfaz 11 was recently behind the highest-grossing Saudi film of all time with “Sattar.”

While the last 18 months have placed Neom as a leading hub for local productions, the company’s first major international showcase arrived back in 2021 with Rupert Wyatt’s “Desert Warrior.” The $150 million production starring Anthony Mackie and Ben Kingsley is currently being prepared for sale.

Hedayat, the project’s producer, said: “We were setting up elsewhere and it didn’t work out. We came to Neom and they offered everything we needed in terms of infrastructure and a lot of support making things happen [including] the lack of bureaucracy and the expeditious ability to just get out there and make a move.”

The producer highlighted the speed with which Neom is evolving. “We finished the film, there was about a year delay, and we came back for reshoots. I was shocked at how much Neom accomplished in that short time.”

Both Borg and Hedayat see large-scale productions such as “Desert Warrior” as opportunities to train local crews in Saudi at a time when demand is considerably larger than supply. In the last two years, Neom has trained over 1,000 professionals, with 98% securing jobs in the industry, freelance or otherwise. “What we are building is trust with the crews, producers and students who know that if they choose to do a course there are going to be career options and pathways for them,” said Borg. “It’s about developing that ecosystem.”

Back in March, Borg hosted the International Industry Showcase, bringing 150 media executives from the U.S. and Europe to experience Neom firsthand. “There’s nothing better than being on the ground and seeing it for yourself,” remarked Borg. “Now there are dozens of projects emanating from that trip, such is the confidence in what they saw.”


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